Nonprofit Technology Adoption Paper Executive Summary

Nonprofit Technology Adoption Paper Executive Summary

For my thesis at MIT Sloan, I took a look at cricial factors for technology adoption. I've included the executive summary below and will be uploading various segments over the next few days.

A growing interdependency exists between government, civil society and the private sector facilitated by information and communication technologies and a networked mode of organization that encourages cross-organization and cross-organizational interdependencies. “Networks allow innovative government officials to discharge government’s important role in solving social problems, by supporting – not supplanting – functioning elements in civil society.” Nonprofit organizations are thought to be able to provide social and health services in a less bureaucratic manner that is closer and more responsive to the client. The de-centralization of services has resulted in innovation in social service delivery often spurred by social entrepreneurs who use limited capital with creativity and sophisticated business practices to achieve social impact.

Despite the growing demand for the services of nonprofit organizations, the civil society sector lags in technology adoption relative to corporations and government. With no access to capital markets and foundation funding directed at programs, little financial or human resources are available to build the technological capacity of organizations. The lack of technological capacity has consequences in terms of organizational efficiency and effectiveness. From a productivity perspective, delays in adoption create significant operating costs as human resources (both staff and volunteer) are wasted performing mundane tasks such as licking envelopes rather than adopting the latest email or web communication technologies to communicate with constituencies. From an effectiveness perspective, resources are often unavailable for technologies such as outcomes tracking or case management software that that would improve the ability to deliver on mission.

This thesis focuses on defining the roles that nonprofit organizations play within the broader inter-sector societal network in attaining a level of sophistication that delivers technological innovation and determines the critical factors in adoption and effective use of technologies that lead such innovation. A particular focus is placed on the role of funders and intermediaries that play as catalysts, enablers, and educators in the adoption and subsequent innovation with such technologies. Intermediaries, known as technology assistance providers, not only serve to spur technology adoption through their marketing and training, but also provide management consulting to ensure effective use by incorporating technology into management practices, operations, and programs. Furthermore, intermediaries facilitate technology transference and education to the foundation community who lack often lack technical expertise. Through reviewing the limited academic literature, surveying industry leaders, and performing cross-organizational and cross-regional comparisons, the note details policy prescriptions for building ecosystems that create tech-savvy nonprofits. These success factors include a supportive community of foundations, significant diversity of nonprofit and for profit intermediaries, and proper leadership from nonprofit organizations at the executive and board level. While intermediaries play the linchpin role in the networked system, this note provides policy recommendations for each actor towards the construction of ecosystems that facilitate adoption, shared learning and effective use of technology in the nonprofit sector.

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